Category Archives: Conductors

The case of the disappearing blog post

This blogging business can be a little crazy.  I wrote a similar post to this one yesterday, published it, and now it’s disappeared.

I know I published because it showed up on my Facebook profile and Twitter stream of tweets (or whatever it’s called) automatically.  Now it’s gone (which I found out because someone emailed me that the link didn’t work).  My hypothesis, which I don’t know how to test, is that there was something funky in the code I posted.  Or maybe I inadvertently deleted it myself when doing the next post. Or maybe there was/is something funky going on at–when I tried to save this draft, it wanted me to log in again, then most of the draft was gone (luckily I had copied it!). Hmm.  That’s three hypotheses–let’s call them guesses.

Anyway, there’s a social-media site called Wikio, which among other things ranks blogs based on numbers of links to the site, etc.  All that stuff is rather beyond me.  Or, rather, more than I feel like learning about.  Be that as it may, Wikio’s algorithm  has determined that this is now the No. 14 classical music blog in all the universe.  Up from No. 15 in April. A nice guy at Wikio sent me the html code for the May list in advance, and that’s what I included in yesterday’s post.

I find that a little hard to believe, but whatever.  Ken Woods, for example, must have a lot more readers than I do.  But who knows.

Looking at the blogs high on Wikio’s list, I realize that this is the only one at least quasi-regularly covering NY concert life.  So, if I had a mind to, I could spin things to say I have the No. 1 blog about New York City classical music concerts.

Oh wait, I just did.  I’m number one!

That will only last a while, though, since I’ll be going back to my life in Indiana in mid-June.  But I promise to enjoy it (this New York stuff) while it lasts, and share as much of it as possible.

When I posted yesterday, the May listing was not yet up on the Wikio site, but today it is.  So just in case the code I posted was the problem, or there were too many links, you can check the list out for yourself.


1 Comment

Filed under blogging, Kenneth Woods, Wikio

The Sublime (Briefly Interrupted By the Ridiculous): the Juilliard Orchestra and Alan Gilbert

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that while in New York on sabbatical, I most often attend new-music or alternative-venue/presentation concerts. I’m developing a course on entrepreneurial skills and where classical music may be headed.  I already know how traditional concerts work; I’m looking to see what new things people are doing.  So I haven’t been going to many big orchestra concerts, or mainstream chamber music performances, etc.

But I got an email from Alan Gilbert‘s publicist asking if I’d like to review last Friday’s Juilliard Orchestra concert (April 15)  in which he conducted the Mahler Ninth Symphony.  Well, when people invite me, I like to go.  So I did. And it’s always fun when someone has heard about my blogging and I did feel a bit flattered, I guess, to get invited by a big-shot publicist. I know another publicist who’s a friend of mine put Gilbert’s publicist up to it, but it was still fun to get the email.

I also knew it would be something that my NY sister-by-choice, Katherine, would like to go to.  She doesn’t care for what my publicist friend calls “squeak-fart music,” which describes a lot of what I go to, but she loves Mahler. There was no hesitation in her acceptance of my invitation.

I heard the Juillard Orchestra (which I assume is the top of several orchestras–I think there were five when I was in school there) about five years ago, in Carnegie Hall, and it was phenomenal.  When I was sorting out for myself issues raised by the now-settled Detroit Symphony strike, I speculated about whether or not the DSO management might be hoping a lot of the musicians would just quit, and mentioned the extraordinary level of the Juilliard Orchestra as an example of why someone might think you could just hire an all-new, fabulous orchestra, at substantially lower salaries and with more flexible attitudes.

Someone in a chat forum for cellists didn’t like that.  The Juilliard Orchestra may be good, came a comment, but it certainly is no Detroit Symphony. It takes years of playing together to create a great symphony orchestra.  And so on.

All of which is true.  The comment certainly resonated with me.

So I sat in Avery Fisher Hall Friday night, where I’ve also heard the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic this trip, and part of the time tried to compare the three ensembles. So I could say why the Juilliard Orchestra isn’t as good as them.

But at least as they were playing under Mr. Gilbert, I was stuck.

I’m reminded of occasional experiments where great old-master, multi-million-dollar Stradavaris and Guarneris are played, behind a screen, side by side with newly-made instruments.  The rankings come and, for the most part, people–players and music lovers–can’t tell which is which.  The new ones are often ranked above many of the old ones.

It was like that for me.  I think that the New York Phil strings, on their best nights, are warmer and richer. The Budapest band played Haydn with a humorful nuance that has got to take years of playing together to be able to achieve.  But for accuracy, clarity, precision, energy, dynamic range . . . I just don’t know how any group could be any better. Virtually flawless, with just a cracked brass note or two, which you hear with the greatest of orchestras.  The strings were so together, so tight, that I was reminded of an extraordinary  Cleveland Orchestra concert where the strings seemed like a string quartet.  It was that good.  Turn on the radio in the car, hear Friday night’s performance, and I doubt anyone would think “that’s a student orchestra.”

And no one in the orchestra looked bored, which is a common complaint about one of the groups I’ve mentioned. “What a thrill it must be for the students to play under Alan Gilbert,” I heard someone say.  Absolutely.  And I bet it was a thrill for him to work with attentive, excited, enthusiastic, brilliant and accomplished young people.

I’ve never heard any orchestra play with the delicate, daring softness that Gilbert drew from the Juilliard students as the last movement was inching towards its conclusion. Honest to god, I could hear people breathing–it was that quiet.  Sublime.

And then someone’s fucking cell phone went off.  In a purse or pocket.  So it had to be fished out and got louder when it emerged. It was promptly silenced.  But then, either that person or someone else turned off a phone, which did one of those longish “I’m shutting down” tunes.  Argh!

People say Fisher Hall’s acoustics aren’t so good, but that sucker carried.  

Katherine and I were thrilled to have been there.  As we walked out, I was struck by the sad thought that for many of the students, this may be the greatest orchestra, and the greatest concert, they’ll ever play in–there just aren’t jobs for all of them in top orchestras. When I have students on a sports team at DePauw, I’m always struck by the bittersweet quality of the last game of the year.  For the seniors, they’ve reached their peak and won’t ever play on that level again.  I’m sure it is the same thing for some of these young people.

But if so, what a way to go out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Gilbert, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Conductors, Juilliard Orchestra, Juilliard School (The), Music Schools and Conservatories, Uncategorized

Gubaidulina performed by Mutter, Thomas, and the NY Phil

I had never heard the stunningly-good violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in person before the Thursday March 31 New York Philharmonic concert (that link takes you to a page with program notes, audio, video, etc.).  She has a ravishing, intense, into-the-string tone that can make you forget that Avery Fisher Hall is not acclaimed for its acoustics.  Michael Tilson Thomas conducted, wonderfully.  I’d never heard him in person before, either, so the night was a special treat for me.  (Steve Smith’s NY Times review is here.)

The Tchaikovsky Second Symphony (“Little Russian”) made up the concert’s second half.  During it, I was reminded of a music-history professor with whom I had an in-class tiff when he dismissed the Tchiak Fifth Symphony, about which I was passionate, as “a string of sequences.”  “Some composers can take a chain of sequences and make great music,” I snarled at him, “and some people listen to great music and only hear a chain of sequences.”  In this performance, the winds and brass were terrific, and although the violins seemed to have a touch of ensemble difficulties in some fast off-the-string passages, the strings were gorgeous. I, to be honest, was only hearing chains of sequences.

Maybe that was because the first half was so terrific.  Prokfiev’s Overture in B-flat Major, Op. 42 “American” opened the program.  It’s a wind ensemble piece with 2 cellos and a double bass, so no wonder it doesn’t get programmed often. It was commissioned in the 1920s by the Aeolian Duo-Art company for its then-new, small New York concert hall, hence the unusual instrumentation.  While I enjoyed it, a friend in the orchestra called it a “justly neglected masterpiece.”  Of course, I only heard it once. Still, I found it a fascinating, energetic little thing.

What made the concert worth attending was Sofia Gubaidulina‘s powerful and moving In tempus praesens, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.  It’s an intense piece,with extended violin soliloquies. As Mutter explains in the video below, the solo violin represents the composer battling with society.  Another unusual instrumentation–no violins (other than the soloist), which gave the strings an especially dark, rich sound and allowed the violas plenty of opportunities to shine.

Mutter discusses the piece:

The friend who took me to the concert didn’t enjoy the concerto, at least while she listened to it. She’s not familiar with a lot of contemporary music and I think she found it disconcerting. But after the performance she said, “You know, I liked the violin concerto the best.  It seemed strange at first, but now I realize it was really powerful.” Often it takes repeated hearings to get used to new musical language and be affected by it; this was an interesting case of impact after the fact. Or maybe something about those Tchaikovsky sequences made Gubiadulina’s brilliance apparent in retrospect.

Speaking of that compositional brilliance, here’s a fascinating video (which I found on Alex Ross’s blog) in which Gubaidulina discusses her complicated creative process.

1 Comment

Filed under Avery Fisher Hall, Conductors, Michael Tilson Thomas, New York Philharmonic, Orchestras, Sofia Gubaidulina